With the evenings getting cooler now, I’m excited to start incorporating soups into my meal plans once again. They are a nice change of pace from salads and are equally good at getting in that serving of veggies we all need.
Soup is liquid food in the best sense. It is nourishing, filling, and comforting all at the same time. And it can be a great starter, or even the star, of the meal.
I’ve often wondered about the difference between a soup that is called “bisque” and one that is called “chowder.” They are both thick soups with a milk or cream base (and I enjoy both types). When I read the definitions of each, it was an “oh, DUH” moment. Bisque is smooth while chowder is chunky. I knew that.
It was interesting to learn recently that chowder has its origins as a shipboard dish from more than 250 years ago. Seafarers, along with French and English immigrants, brought the dish to North America. On board ships, chowders consisted of a mixture of fresh fish, salt pork, crushed and pounded hardtack biscuits and onions.
Early French settlers in North America stewed fresh fish, clams, bacon and sea biscuits in a large “chaudière,” a type of bucket or cauldron. It is thought “chaudière” was mispronounced enough times by Native Americans and English settlers to become today’s word “chowder.”
As a North American dish, chowder has its roots in New England. There are several types of clam chowder, including New England clam chowder, a cream-based soup, and Manhattan clam chowder, a broth-based soup.
Clam chowder normally includes either fresh or canned clams, diced potato, onion and celery. Depending on the area of New England, it may also include tomato and other vegetables, and be seasoned with bay leaves, saffron and other spices.
My youngest son is a fan of New England-style clam chowder. We will occasionally have a doctor’s appointment in Orange County, and when we do, he always requests a stop at Boudin Bakery. Yes, for the bread. But, more importantly for their clam chowder. It is delicious.
Corn chowder also has its roots in New England and dates back to the 1880s. A recipe for corn chowder appears in the Boston Cooking-School Cookbook, authored by Fannie Farmer in 1896. Modern cooks owe a lot to the famous Miss Farmer, as her cookbook introduced the concept of using standardized measurements in recipes.
Sort of the Julia Child of her time, Fannie Farmer brought exactness and measurement into recipe writing and cookery. Up to the late 19th century, recipes called for “handfuls” of this and “goodly amounts” of that.
A cooking teacher, writer and lecturer, Farmer insisted on precise measurements such as level teaspoons, cups and ounces as a way to produce better food with reliable results. One hundred years later, her cookbook is still being bought by home cooks.
This week’s recipe is a corn chowder that is adapted from a recipe in The Best of Cooking Light Cookbook. It is ready in less than 30 minutes, making it a great weekday dinner, alongside some crusty French bread (perhaps from Boudin?) and a salad.
Quick Shrimp Corn Chowder
- 2 Tbsp. butter
- 1/4 cup chopped onion
- 1/4 cup chopped celery
- 1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and minced
- 1/2 cup red bell pepper, seeded and chopped
- 2 Tbsp. all-purpose or gluten-free flour
- 3 cups milk (cow, almond, coconut, or rice)
- 2 cups raw shrimp, peeled and deveined
- 1 can (14 oz.) cream-style corn
- 1 1/2 cups fresh or frozen corn kernels
- 1/2 tsp. dried thyme
- 1/4 tsp. ground red pepper
- 1/4 tsp. salt
In a large saucepan, melt butter over medium heat. Add onion, celery, jalapeno and red bell pepper and cook for 3 to 5 minutes until tender, stirring frequently. Add flour and stir to coat vegetables; cook for 1 minute. Slowly add the milk, stirring constantly. Add shrimp, cream-style corn, corn kernels and seasonings. Bring mixture to a boil, lower heat and simmer for 5 to 7 minutes until shrimp is pink and soup starts to thicken.